NOTE: This article includes information and text from the National Weather Service.
(WGHP) – You may have heard the saying “When thunder roars, head indoors.” For severe weather preparedness week, let’s dive into how to stay safe when lightning is nearby.
Lightning strikes the United States 25 million times a year, which sometimes results in death or permanent injury. The safest place to be when lightning occurs is indoors or inside a hard-topped enclosed vehicle.
All thunderstorms produce lightning and are dangerous. Lightning strikes outside the area of heavy rain and may strike as far as 10 miles from any rainfall. Many lightning deaths occur ahead of storms or after storms seem to have passed.
Keep this simple fact in mind: if you can hear thunder, you’re in danger. Also, don’t be fooled by blue skies. There is no such thing as “heat lightning.” All lightning comes as a result of a thunderstorm, and, if you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to pose an immediate threat to you.
The most effective lightning safety action can be found in avoiding the lightning threat altogether. Have a lightning safety plan, especially if you’re having an outdoor event. If you have outdoor plans, know where you’ll go for safety in the event of lightning or thunder, and figure out how much time it will take to get to the safe place. Make sure your plan allows enough time to reach safely.
Before going outdoors, check the forecast for thunderstorms. If thunderstorms are in the forecast, consider postponing activities to avoid being caught in a dangerous situation.
When outdoors, monitor the weather and be sure to look for signs of a developing thunderstorm such as darkening skies, flashes of lightning or sudden increasing winds.
If you hear thunder, even if it’s just a distant rumble, immediately activate your lightning safety plan and move to a safe place.
Did you know there are different types of lightning?
Cloud-to-ground lightning: A “stepped leader,” which is invisible to the naked eye, will zigzag downward in roughly 50-yard segments in a forked pattern. A return stroke of bright luminosity travels about 60,000 miles per second back toward the cloud. A flash consists of one or perhaps as many as 20 return strokes.
Cloud-to-air lightning: Cloud flashes sometimes have visible channels that extend out into the air around a storm but do not strike the ground.
Intra-cloud lightning: Lightning that is embedded within a cloud that lights up as a sheet of luminosity during the flash.
Cloud-to-cloud lightning: Lightning that strikes from one cloud to another and doesn’t reach the ground
Lightning Safety Tips
During thunderstorms, no place outside is safe. If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you. When you hear thunder, immediately move to a safe shelter, an enclosed substantial building with electricity or plumbing i.e. a home, office building, school restaurant or store.
Sheds, tents, picnic pavilions, porches and baseball dugouts do not offer any lightning protection and may actually increase your chance of being struck.
If no substantial building is available for shelter, an enclosed metal-topped vehicle can offer protection from lightning, but make sure the winds are in the up position.
If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby, immediately get off any elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks. You never want to shelter under an isolated tree and you never want to lie flat on the ground. Stay away from objects that conduct electricity such as barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills and bodies of water.
Stay in your safe shelter for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.
While indoors during a lightning event, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that could put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, showers, baths and faucets. Stay away from windows and doors and stay off of porches. Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.